If you live in a large swath of northern Cali you can electronically check out books from the NCDL, most of which are Protected PDF, and read them on devices such as an iPad. It’s simple, just follow these 7 easy steps

0. Completely disregard anything the site says about software. In particular, don’t bother with Overdrive clients.

1. Find a book you like. Click “Add to BookBag” (unless, of course, all copies of that book are out on loan, in which case the link will be gone with no sign that anything’s missing). Then click on “My BookBag” and complete the checkout process.

2. You will be offered download links for software (which you should ignore) and the book itself. Click to download a ASCM file, which you will quickly note is not a book at all, but a permission stub saying that you can download the book.

3. OK, I lied about the software. You do need to install Adobe Digital Editions. It has a weird, Flash-based installer that runs from within a web browser, but it’s not a virus, I swear. You’ll also need to create an Adobe ID.

4. Click on your recently-downloaded ascm file to open it in Adobe. This will trigger an excruciatingly-slow download of an actual PDF file, albeit time-bombed and tightly linked to your Adobe ID.

5. You need software that can actually handle these files. I use BlueFire reader on the iPad. Install it.

6. Attach the iPad to your computer. Click on the iPad icon in Itunes, and go to the Apps tab. Scroll to the bottom where it says “the following apps can transfer documents between your iPad and this computer”. Select BlueFire, click the Add… button, and navigate to your PDF file, by default in a directory named Digital Editions.

7. Now you can open the file in BlueFire Reader and read. It will phone home at least once per day to verify your loan.

Alternately, you can visit a physical library for an optimized browsing experience with realtime chat capabilities at the librarian desk.